Scheduled Caste politics
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Dress code disobedience: 1893 onwards
Born in the then Travancore Princely State, Mahatma Ayyankali (1863-1941) led many a social revolution. His revolt of 1893 is the lighthouse in Dalits’ struggles for self-esteem. Central to his rebellion was his dress code. He dressed like a Nair from toe to neckline, sported a white pagri. Dalit men in Ayyankali’s time, most often, wore Konakam; a loincloth paralleling north India’s langoti.
Dress code disobedience marked Dalit struggles for most part of the 20th century. In fact, the Perinad Mutiny of 1915 – mark the word ‘Mutiny’ – is the greatest known Dalit uprising when women in Perinad village of the present day Kollam district set their Kallumala ornaments on fire. Made from ugly stone pieces and wooden beeds, this jewellery worn around necks marked Dalit women’s inferior status in the then Travancore society. With his Bhartiya Kisan Union, Mahendra Singh Tikait had evolved into an unparalleled kisan leader in the 1990s. Mostly small or marginal farmers, Dalits didn’t fit into his scheme of things. Jaipal Singh Mitharia, a Dalit, began organising Dalits under a separate umbrella. Landlords and Dalits clashed at occasions; Dalits were at the receiving end.
Tired of persecutions by the landlords, Dalits organised a meeting, Tikait joined as an arbitrator. Dalit leader Mitharia accused Tikait of siding with landlords. According to Mitharia, Tikait had sarcastically commented after the event that ‘Ek dhoti wala hai, ek langoti wala; aur langoti wala dhoti wale ko dekh kar jal raha hai’ (there is the dhoti guy, and there is the langoti guy; the langoti guys are jealous of the dhoti guys). Worn from waist to toe, dhoti spoke of caste pride. Loincloth shaped, langoti spoke of caste indignity. Born in the Pali district countryside ML Parihar, a Dalit, is a noted veterinary doctor; at least 10 of his books are in the syllabus of veterinary schools. Parihar vividly recalls caste associated pagris; Dalits knew that they were forbidden from sporting pagris with long tails, often, longer beyond the waist. “People’s caste could be figured out by their dress, jewellery,” Parihar affirms.
Not just a purity/ pollution preservation apparatus, caste structures people’s lifestyles intensely. Caste determined what Dalits could wear, from clothes to jewellery; what they could eat. At some point of time, ghee or wheat were prohibited to Dalits. Elderly Dalits recall how Dalits’ dressing rebellions attracted the wrath of upper caste nationalists. Later when Ayyankali led his most accredited dress code defiance, a kind of dress code democracy has been realised, almost. The dress code democracy however, has not been accomplished by man; not even by the master of the time, the Angrej. It is Angrejiate that has caused the dress code democracy.
The Angrejiate isn’t language; it evolved out of the dress the Angrej wore, hats that they sported, lifestyle that they practised. The trouser, for instance, didn’t contain social hierarchy. It is either full trouser, or shorts. Lord Macaulay and his peon, both could opt for either of the two designs. The hat is a headgear anyone can deploy. The Angrejiate eliminated the Nair dress, and Konakam as well. Angrejiate sent dhoti into near extinction. Hat and caps have turned pagri into an embarrassment.
The Angrejiate hasn’t much to do with Angreji the tongue. Who understood Angreji when the Angrej set foot in India? But his Angrejiate – the suit and boot he wore – was well-understood. As the Angrej settled down, his mannerism transcended into a civilisation. The toilet the Angrej built turned into a Western object, so his cutlery, literature, sciences, machines, even drinks that Angrej fashioned. The Angrejiate turned into a civilisational issue – East-West, Poorab-Paschim. It posed an existential threat to the Hindiate that had just managed to crisscross the Vindhyas; and paused before the Satpuras.
Notionally a civilisation, the Hindiate blazes out from the womb of the Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan trinity. The Hindiate is certainly not about Hindi, the tongue. Adherents of the Hindiate loathe Angrejiate as a form of Westernism; stemming from the mlecchas. To the Hindiate, Angrej is mleccha, Dalit is mleccha. The Angrejiate is thus, an evil on the land of Hindiate.
Over the past seven decades, Angrejiate sneaked into the very DNA of India. It produced an elite that adores Angrejiate, married its future with the new civilisation. The domestic mleccha – the Dalit – reclaimed his humanity under the Angrejiate. India, post-1947, has emerged a much freer landscape to Dalits than ever before in the known history of India. For ages, the Hindiate had its knees on Dalits’ necks. Freed, Dalits can enter schools, wear caste neutral dresses, consume even ghee.
2016-18: The build-up to the 2018 Bandh
i) Crimes against SCs, 2014-16;
ii) Crimes against SCs in 2016-17, and the SCs’ response;
The proportion of SC population, state-wise, in 2011;
2018: a backgrounder on SC’s ruling on the Atrocities Act
2018: Bandh against SC ruling on Atrocities Act
Infographic about the Bandh
The Centre moved a review petition challenging the recent Supreme Court order on the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. Meanwhile, dalit organisations have called a nationwide 'bandh' to pressure the government to take concrete action in the matter.
On April 2, 2018, the nation-wide protest called by the Dalit community turned ugly. Nine people were killed and many injured as protesters blocked trains, clashed with police and set dozens of vehicles ablaze in several states. The protest was against a Supreme Court order that dilutes a law aimed at preventing atrocities against Dalits and Tribes. Here's how the violence turned out across the nation.
- The NDA government today filed a petition seeking review of the Supreme Court order diluting the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, which protects marginalised communities against discrimination and atrocities.
- In the review petition drafted by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, the Centre is likely to contend that the order will weaken the provisions of the Act, thereby reducing the fear of law, which may result in more violations.
- On March 20, the Supreme Court banned automatic arrests and registration of criminal cases under the SC/ST Act, triggering widespread criticism and outcry from the dalit community.
- The apex court said public servants can't be prosecuted without the approval of the appointing authority, and private citizens too should be arrested only after an inquiry under the law.
- It further ruled that preliminary inquiry in a case under the Act would be conducted by the Deputy Superintendent of Police to ensure the allegations are not frivolous.
- The amendment in the law was a bid to protect honest public servants discharging bona fide duties from being blackmailed with false cases under the Act.
- However, dalit organisations and some political parties fear the dilution of the provisions of the Act might lead to increase in violence against Dalits.
- After holding agitations over the last few days to protest against the top court's ruling on the SC/ST Act, several dalit outfits have called for a Bharat Bandh today.
- A delegation of dalit lawmakers is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi today to apprise him of the issues concerning the SCs and STs, including the unhappiness among the community over the apex court verdict on SC/ST Act.
- The Congress party, which has urged the Centre to file a review petition, will organise a demonstration on April 4 at Parliament Street against the verdict and the atrocities committed against dalits in different parts of the country.
Areas of SC influence
Reserved SC Constituencies: Lok Sabha, state assembles
See graphic, ' Constituencies reserved for the Scheduled Castes in the Lok Sabha and the state assembles '
Districts with a high SC population
The Times of India, Aug 14 2016
Dalits are an increasingly assertive political bloc: Mayawati, a Dalit herself, has been chief minister of India's largest state (Uttar Pradesh) four times, most recently in 2012.
At 32% of the population, Punjab is home to the highest SC percentage in India. In 13 of its 21 districts, the Dalit population is higher than the statewide average; 34 of its 117 assembly seats are reserved for SC candidates.
In six districts, the SC vote can swing outcomes: these include Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar, where Dalits are 42.5% of the population, Muktsar Sahib (42.3%), Firozpur (42%), Jalandhar and Faridkot (39%) and Moga (36.5%).
Dalits are 21% of UP's population. This is important, because in a multi-cornered poll fight, a party can sweep with less than 30% of total votes. In 2012, for example, SP won 224 seats (of 403) with only 29% votes.
In several districts, Dalits alone can swing it for Mayawati. These include Sonbhadra, with a 42% Dalit population, Kaushambi (36%), Sitapur (32%), Unnao and Hardoi (31%), Rae Bareli (30%), Jhansi and Auraiya (28%).In 34 of UP's 70 districts, the Dalit population is higher than their statewide average.
Social media and the SCs
2020: SC MPs less likely to be heard on Twitter
Social media, by design, is meant to be a digital echochamber. Over time, likes, shares and comments train algorithms to turn feeds into homogenous monoliths. What does that mean for political discourse or, simply put, whose voice gets amplified and whose dies down? A group of social media researchers found that in India, that process can be significantly caste-driven.
Cornell University researcher Palashi Vaghela and coauthors Ramaravind KM and Joyojeet Pal identified 489 of the 542 Lok Sabha MPs who have a Twitter presence. Of them, 465 were active when the study was undertaken — from March 2019 to February 2020. They studied three things — reciprocity (if MPs followed each other), pagerank centrality (influence in a network) and retweet odds (how likely an MP is to retweet another). “The higher your caste, the more likely you are to have a reciprocal connection with Lok Sabha members, be important in the network and get retweeted by a higher caste Lok Sabha member.”
When it comes to following, Scheduled Tribe MPs from both BJP and non-BJP parties are the least reciprocated and “Brahmins MPs have a significant advantage over all the lower-caste MPs in terms of getting reciprocal following links from other MPs.” That means the networks of influence, too, are centred around upper-caste MPs. So, while the number of Brahmins in Lok Sabha is nearly the same as that of most other castes, “they get followed by a relatively higher number of MPs, including other most followed MPs in the network.”
This has an effect on how messages are amplified. The odds of Brahmin MPs from BJP being retweeted by other upper-caste MPs is 2.4 times higher than for Dalit MPs. When it comes to MPs from STs, they are 3.5 times less likely to be retweeted. Among non-BJP parties, too, Dalit MPs are at a disadvantage: upper caste MPs are 10 times more likely to be retweeted.
“What politicians do online — who they communicate with, follow, or retweet, are integrally tied to the ways they perform and reciprocate relationships with their networks and their electoral base,” the study said.
What does it mean for cases, like the Hathras gang-rape and murder, where caste identity is central to the debate? “...Voices of lower caste MPs are definitely not getting the same kind of traction as upper caste MPs ... Issues lower caste MPs might be tweeting about are more likely to be pushed to the margins due to the echo-chamber formed by upper-caste MPs,” Vaghela said, adding: “The higher engagement of upper-caste MPs with each other is likely to shape the narrative through amplification of their thought within their followers.”
STATE-WISE EVENTS, ISSUES
Maharashtra: Eight sensitive places, eight issues
A look at the locations of the stir, symbolic of the tensions between communities as attempts are made to redraw caste alliances.
1. Vadhu Budruk
Govind Gaikwad belonged to the Mahar community; he believed to have performed the last rites of Chhatrapati Sambhaji, son of Maratha icon Chhatrapati Shiva-ji.
Aurangzeb killed Sambhaji and none dared to perform his last rites fearing the Mughal king's wrath.
Tension has simmered since the last few years with right-wingers running a campaign that Sambhaji's rites were performed by Marathas and not a Mahar.
Dec 28, 2017: A shed & information board near Gaikwad's tombstone vandalised in village Vadhu Budruk
Dec 29: Dalits file cases against Marathas
Dec 30: Netas of both communities compromise. Dalits to withdraw cases, Marathas to reinstate board near Gaikwad's samadhi
Dec 31: Conference organised at Shaniwar Wada by dalit outfits and Maratha body Sambhaji Brigade that moots an alliance of dalits, Marathas, Muslims.
3. Koregaon Bhima
In the battle between Peshwas and the British at Koregaon on river Bhima's banks on January 1, 1818, Mahars — who saw Peshwas as oppressors — fought for the British, who built an obelisk as a memorial. Annual celebrations have been held here after B R Ambedkar's visit in 1927.
Two versions to the story.
Dalits and a section of Marathas see the battle as the end of "Brahmanical oppression". The Hindu-right sees it as the end of Hindu rule.
Jan 1, 2018: dalits gather for 200th anniversary celebration of Koregaon-Bhima battle.
A few villagers call a bandh. Stone-pelting starts, followed by arson. One Maratha dies.
January 2: Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar calls for bandh to protest attack on dalits, names Sambhaji Bhide (84) and Milind Ekbote (56) as instigators. Bhide had led the stir against movie Jodha Akbar, Ekbote has been a BJP/ Shiv
Sena corporator FIR lodged against the two on January 3.
Jan 3: Massive protests by dalits turn violent. 30 cops injured. City brought to a halt.
In 1902, Kolhapur's ruler and Shiva-ji's descendant, Shahu Maharaj, offered dalits reservation in education and service.
A first of its kind, this was an enduring symbol of dalit-Maratha amity.
Dalits and Marathas have grown apart over the last few decades with growing right-wing presence. Shiv Sena and BJP have banked on Maratha netas brought in from Sharad Pawar's NCP and Congress.
Jan 3: Shiv Sena MLA Rajesh Kshirsagar leads a mob opposing bandh.
Marathwada region's main city has significant dalit and Muslim populations. Shiv Sena made inroads after violence over the re-naming of Marathwada University after Dr B R Ambedkar.
The Maratha Seva Sangh and its youth wing Sambhaji Brigade have been trying to prop up a new alliance comprising dalits, Marathas and Muslims. The All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimee has a strong base in the city.
Shiv Sena netas have built their political fortunes rabblerousing against Muslims and dalits here.
Jan 3: Internet suspended
A few Maratha groups support the bandh, as do the Muslims.
Once known as the birthplace of Marathi theatre; Sangli today is a divided town. Sambhaji Bhide's outfit has deep roots here and enjoys support of all parties.
Hindu-Muslim tensions are frequent, especially in neighbouring town of Miraj, with substantial minority population.
Jan 4: Bhide backers organise march, demand withdrawal of case against Bhide.
The R-S-S blamed "breaking India brigade" for the Bhima Koregaon violence, claiming it wants to divide Hindu society. But so far, the Nagpur-based body has not made clear its stand on Bhima Koregaon. Former R-S-S sanghchalak M S Golwalkar had criticised celebrations stating that the battle must not be glorified as after all it was defeat of indigenous rulers.
Punjab's population which is SC, 2011
A movement to embrace Dravidian identity/ 2018
When E V Ramaswamy started the Self Respect Movement or the Dravidian movement in Madras in 1925, it was as much ‘anti-North India’ and ‘anti-Hindi’ as it was about fighting the caste system and superstition and inculcating self-respect among all. Periyar, as Ramaswamy was better known, would perhaps never have imagined that a Dravidian movement would one day take shape in the extreme northern corner of India. Now, more than 90 years later, many Dalits in Punjab have started embracing what they call their ‘Dravidian identity’. Many of them don’t even know about Periyar and the movement in the 1930s down south, but say they feel the need to define themselves differently. At nearly 32%, Punjab has the highest percentage of Dalits among all states.
This new assertion is finding maximum traction among members of the Valmiki community (traditionally involved in scavenging and considered lowest in the caste hierarchy). Although initial attempts to create such an identity in Punjab go back almost 50 years, it was mainly confined to a few activists. The recent Supreme Court order, which many saw as dilution of the SC/ST Act, however, led to a renewed interest on the issue among Punjab Dalits.
Punjab Dalits adopt Dravid as surname
Punjab Dalits now wear this new identity on their sleeve and describe themselves as ‘Dravidian’ or ‘Anarya’ (non-Arya). Many of them have also started taking on last names like Daitya, Danav, Achhoot and even Rakshas. Even Dravid is being adapted as surname. Given that it is cumbersome to change ones name officially, they do it informally and prefer to be identified by new names. “The SC order and the clash between Dalit activists and right-wing Hindu groups at Phagwara on April 13, in which one Valmiki youth was killed, have triggered interest in this regard,” says Aadi Dharam Samaj founder Darshan Ratan Raavan. His organisation has been at the forefront of spearheading the movement.
“We are working on making the Dravidian demarcation clear,” he adds. “We have separate religious customs from Hindus. When Rishi Ratnakar ji Maharaj, who was one of the founders of the movement of asserting a separate identity, passed away on April 5, no Hindu ritual was performed. We recited Valmiki prayers.” “Youths from our community want to start Raavan Sena units in cities,” said Lakhbir Lankesh, who heads Raavan Sena.
Voting in reserved seats in 2009, 2014
As in 2010
From the early days of the Dalit movement in the 90s when BSP assumed office with the slogan, ‘Tilak taraju aur talwar, inko maaro joote char’, the community has come a long way. No single party can now consider the entire Dalit community its vote bank. The rise of outfits like the Bhim Army has fired Dalit aspirations.
Before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, BJP could cash in on this resentment and win a large chunk of the non-Jatav votes. The UP assembly elections in 2017, too, saw a similar voting pattern. This time, however, it is likely that Jatavs will transfer their votes on Mayawati’s call since BSP has a tie-up with SP. However, the same cannot be said about other sub-castes.
Vijay Singh Balmiki of Punera says the SP-BSP alliance will face a tough challenge. “The Yadavs will never vote for BSP candidates as the maximum number of cases booked under the SC/ ST (anti-atrocities) Act have been filed against them. They would prefer Modi. Previous governments have done nothing for us. Modi has got toilets, roads, water and power,” says the 29-year-old.
But Dharmendra Soni, a Jatav from Mantola, says he will vote only for BSP. “Our vote and rights are safe only in the hands of Mayawati.”
2017: Hindutva Or Ambedkar?
There's a permanent Dalit revolution in UP, but Mayawati may not be its only beneficiary
In his adopted village Jayapur in Varanasi district, PM Narendra Modi has erected a giant Ambedkar statue in the Harijan quarter. Yet the paint on the statue is peeling badly , the solar lamp that illuminates it is out of battery .Dalits of Jayapur say Ambedkar is being dishonoured and insulted.
The Dalit vote has been assiduously cultivated by BJP . In these assembly polls UP's 21% Dalits are generally expected to stay with Mayawati although BJP hopes to gain among non-Jatav Dalits (Mayawati being a Jatav) to whom it has given 65 tickets. The Dalit leadership from Ram Vilas Paswan to Udit Raj is already with BJP . Is Dalit aspiration and desire to escape caste shackles taking the community towards Modi? Or will the Ambedkarite legacy of the fight against Hindutva keep Dalits out of the sangh parivar's net? Has Mayawati sacrificed the movement for Dalit cultural liberation by allying with BJP in the past and is she losing the loyalty of angry young Dalits?
In villages across UP , the signs of Dalit assertion are unmistakable. In fact, the Dalit revolution is UP's permanent revolution. Jeans clad Dalit millennials say our forefathers had brooms in their hand, we have a smart phone or a laptop.The violence on Dalits at Una, the `institutional murder' of Rohith Vemula, rising Dalit atrocities and statements against reservations by leaders Bhagwat and Vaidya, have made many educated Dalits acutely conscious that the Hindutva worldview has no place for them.
Dronacharya, the Hindu guru, is for many Dalits a `villain' and they vociferously question BJP's decision to name Gurugram after him. “Beyond tokenist gestures like the Bhim app, what concrete steps has Modi taken for Dalits,“ they ask.
At the same time for many Dalit communities like Khatiks and Dhobis, who have got tickets from BJP , Modi is a symbol of aspiration. The `Hindukaran' of Dalits is proceeding at a rapid pace in rural areas. In the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013 Dalits participated in the attacks on Muslims, and in 2014 BJP got 24% of Dalit vote while BSP got 14%. A big chunk of the BSP vote shifted to BJP in 2014. Dalits are thus torn between the desire to declare their unique identity or to be accepted into the temples of Hinduism from where they were barred for centuries.
Mayawati too has always been torn between seizing immediate power for office and the long term strategy to which Kanshi Ram was committed. Her spectacular 206 seat victory in 2007 brought UP its first majority government in 17 years but made BSP into yet another political party , rather than the `movement' it claimed to be.
However the forces Mayawati represents are acutely real. Observers at BSP rallies cannot miss the pumping mood of empowerment and confidence. Dalits angrily defend Ambedkar parks and having tasted political power are simply unwilling to accept secondary status.They are angry at the way Mayawati is lampooned by the `brahmanical media' and argue that Mayawati's statues are no different from leaders who click selfies and pose for Madame Tussauds. We are not a crutch for anyone is a dominant sentiment among Dalit middle class professionals who still have an inordinate sense of pride that a Dalit woman was CM. It is a matter of pride, they say that when upper castes pass by a Dalit no longer has to stand up and that his FIRs are registered.
But is Mayawati and the politics she represents more about UP's past than its future? Is Mayawati being left behind by the social emancipation movement launched by young Dalits? Mayawati plays an old style politics of caste and community at a time when the Dalit craves a new modern vocabulary . When behenji attempts a Dalit-Muslim alliance by giving more than 100 tickets to Muslims is she attempting a social engineering that can no longer be achieved by the old style simple 1+1=2 type caste and community arithmetic?
Traditional politics is changing fast.Dalit voices on social media, notably the twitter handle @DalitRising, show the young want social justice and a modern equal opportunity agenda. Mayawati provided security but not the economic opportunities and benefits of modern education which they crave. Rural Dalits are lured by offers of sanskritisation or caste Hindu status that the sangh parivar offers them because opportunities are still so horribly lacking. Spending nights with Dalits a la Rahul or lunching with Dalits a la Amit Shah are only terribly limited tokens. The Dalit revolution is looking for emancipatory equality and a new political vocabulary that expresses their anguish at the brutally discriminatory system.
By playing traditional caste-commu nity votebank politics Mayawati has become imitative of the same political system against which Kanshi Ram roared out his challenge. While Mayawati has been co-opted by the political system, many young Dalits are now turning towards reclaiming a Buddhist identity and many also say they are angry at the compromises Mayawati is making and at the corruption charges against her.
Thus several strands make up UP's permanent Dalit revolution: aspiration, anger, assertion of identity , rejection of Hinduism. Dalits say the flaunting of cash at weddings or on birthdays is a means of this assertion which is why demonitisation has become for them a cruel joke. Caught between Ambedkar and Hindutva, the Dalit revolution is restlessly searching for a leader who will speak a modern egalitarian language and attempt to transform Ambedkar's teachings into living realities. Mayawati plays old style politics, the BJP DNA is brahmanical and against reservations.Thus politics is failing this Dalit revolution which even though leaderless is growing stronger and bigger every day .
YEAR-WISE HISTORY, DEVELOPMENTS
Mid-2016: Trends in SC political inclinations
The Times of India, Aug 11 2016
Una atrocity plays on Dalit minds
The attack on Dalits near Vishakhapatnam shows that Narendra Modi vowing to act against cow vigilantism may not be enough to stop the violence and pave the way for bringing around the large vote bank that has faced centuries of persecution.
The anger is still simmering. Dalits TOI correspondents across the country spoke to returned again and again to the Una incident where gau rakshaks publicly flogged four Dalits, and driven by the self-imposed `right' to harass other castes, filmed their brutality. To the Dalit mind, these gau rakshaks are an extension of the Sangh parivar.
So even when the Centre issued an advisory stating cow slaughter, even if banned, “does not entitle individual group to take action on their own to... punish the alleged wrong doers“, it had limited impact. In the same manner that BJP's expulsion of party official Dayashankar Singh for his slanderous remarks against BSP's Mayawati did little to assuage their hurt.
“When these people can make derogatory remarks against a four-time CM only because she's a Dalit, imagine their attitude towards the commoner Dalit,“ says Amar Paswan, research scholar at DDU Gorakhpur University .
For all purposes, opinion against the saffron camp has especially sharpened in poll bound states of UP , Punjab and Gujarat, where Dalits have tended to vote as a bloc.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, UP was the feather in PM Modi's cap, where the Dalit vote swung in his favour. “We voted for Yogiji (Gorakhpur MP Yogi Adityanath),“ but, “We've learnt our lesson, will now be cautious,“ says Vijay Kumar Azad, vice-president, UP Rashtriya Hind Sena Dalit Sangathan, who had wholeheartedly backed BJP in 2014. At 32%, Punjab has the country's largest population share of Dalits. Local BJP netas concede the community is questioning them after the Una brutality . At a recent meeting in Ludhiana of Adi Dharam Samaj (ADS), an organisation of Balmikis, talk focused on the Una atrocity , though the meet had been convened to discuss controversial film `The Legend of Michael Mishra' over its references to Maharshi Balmiki. “Though BJP netas express solidarity with Dalits, it is the party and sangh parivar that are blamed,“ says ADS founder Darshan Singh Ravan.
In Gujarat, Mulchand Rana, vice-president of Samajik Samrasta Vikas Manch, admits Dalits have united against BJP and its ideologues.“This has harmed BJP's initiative towards equality .“ The party's Dalit leader in Porbandar, Babu Pandvadra, quit the party with over 200 supporters weeks after the Una violence.
Ahead of the election next year, activists are questioning Modi's 2014 poll plank of the `Gujarat model'. “Fact remains Gujarat's development model never included Dalits.Most eke out a living as daily wagers and labour,“ says Kaushik Parmar of the Una Dalit Atyachar Ladat Samiti, that's spearheading the state's antiBJP Dalit stir.
Activists have of late as serted that an upper caste bias is apparent in states where BJP governments have come to power. “Atrocities against Dalits have increased under BJP (Vasundhara Raje) government.Since 2014, upper castes in rural areas have boasted `ab to hamari sarkar aa gayi (now we're in power),“ says PL Mimroth of the Jaipurbased Centre for Dalit Rights.
The Vasundhara government's failure to act sternly against perpetrators in antiDalit crimes has magnified the perception that such attackers “can get away with anything“, says another Dalit leader associated with BJP , referring to a case in April when two Dalit boys were stripped and beaten publicly in Chittorgarh on charges of theft.“The incident is fresh in the community's memory ,“ he said seeking anonymity .
In Maharashtra too, Dev endra Fadnavis's government is facing the ripples of Dalit distress. Pune corporator Siddharth Dhende, said to be close to Republican Party of India (A) chief Ramdas Athavale, is critical of the saffron camp.“Our perception about BJP when we joined hands with them for Lok Sabha polls was different. But after two years, the BJP government has completely failed to work for Dalits' uplift,“ he told TOI.
Though Athavale's party is part of government now, senior party neta from Mumbai Avinash Mahatekar says this does not mean “our support is unconditional“, noting that RPI(A) had opposed Fadnavis government's beef ban. This, in the state that gave birth to the organised Dalit resistance movement back in 1942, when B R Ambedkar formed the Scheduled Castes Federation.
CLASH OF CULTURES
Activist Omprakash Kalme is not surprised: BJP's core support are the upper castes who are `anti-Dalit' anyhow. “First, they feel educated Dalits are trying to compete with upper castes and second, reservation. All those opposing reservation are BJP supporters,“ says Kalme.
Back in pollbound UP , carcass-flayers are shunning their source of livelihood that's now fraught with danger. As Vidyasagar, a Lucknow Muncipal Corporation worker thrashed by vigilantes July 28, says, “Skinning dead cows is what we've done for generations, but can't any more because we're afraid of being attacked.“
If at one end, the Dalit is angry at the atrocities, at the other end, it is research scholar Rohith Vemula's suicide that is crystallising opinion.“Vemula's suicide showed there is another subtle form of caste violence which many youth easily identify with,“ says Rekha Raj, Dalit feminist and writer from Kerala. Atrocities would earlier be noted only if it were mass killing or a gangrape, she says. That is no longer so.
Bhopal-based activist Indresh Gajbhiye, a BJP associate, whose organization works for Dalit uplift says the fight is as much for equal respresentation as `roti, kapda aur makan'. “The Dalit is watching and waiting as it did for 60 years of the Congress. If BJP fails to deliver, it'll meet Congress's fate,“ he says.
Since 2014, various saffron outfirs have also felt empowered to push the Hindutva agenda. “When Congress dismissed a demand to elect a Dalit as Karnataka CM, they weren't upset. What did anger them is the sustained efforts by pro-Hindu forces to curb Dalit food and culture,“ says Mysuru-based Dalit thinktank Lakshman Hoskote. Inputs from Anuja Jaiswal, Yusra Hasan, Anjumand Bano, Sujit Mahamulkar , Anindo De, IP Singh, Arvind HM, Radheyshyam Jadhav, B Sreejan, Radha Sharma, Amarjit Singh & Mohan Bhadauria
Between Mainstream Parties & Ambedkar’s VBA, They Are Divided & Leaderless In Maha
In Maharashtra’s direct face-off between two alliances, the shadow of BR Ambedkar looms large. Fifteen months after the Bhima Koregaon agitation set off nation-wide echoes, a new Dalit assertion is struggling to find space in Maharashtra’s divided election landscape.
There’s a craving for a new leadership, which is leading some Dalits towards old wine in new bottles such as the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) led by Prakash Ambedkar. VBA aims to represent the new assertion but lacking political heft on the ground seems unlikely to play any role beyond that of spoiler.
Prakash Ambedkar is being targeted for allegedly selling out to BJP by dividing the anti-BJP vote. Asks Pune-based activist and former judge BG Kolse Patil, organiser of Elgaar Parishad, who recently quit Ambedkar’s front: “Why is Ambedkar not allying with the opposition? Prakash Ambedkar refused to even meet Rahul Gandhi.”
In a leadership vacuum, Maharashtra’s Dalits appear restless. There is a feeling of being betrayed by dishonest leaders. The dominant feeling is anger and humiliation at the hands of “manuwad” forces over the last five years. Dalits form 13.5% of Maharashtra and were once a solid support bloc for Congress.
Rajya Sabha member and former Pune University VC Narendra Jadhav says there is a “silent revolution” among Maharashtra’s Dalits. Former UGC chairman Sukhdeo Thorat says rising atrocities against Dalits, as well as reduction in higher education allocations and dwindling opportunities for Dalit academics, has created disenchantment with the BJP-Shiv Sena.
“Last time many Dalits were drawn to BJP, which got 25% Dalit votes; traditional Congress voters among Dalits like Chamars and Matangs had shifted to BJP. Dalit parties – BSP and RPI – got just 20% of the Dalit vote. But the rise of neo-Brahmanical Hindutva of R S S has created an Ambedkarite consolidation.”
Maharashtra has had a strong anti-Brahmin movement in the Phule-Shahu-Ambedkar tradition. Today, there is strong Dalit opposition to Maratha dominance in politics which reflects in resentment against both BJP and Congress. Surgeon Dr Mahendra Kamble says both parties have humiliated Dalits. “Dalits have suffered more at Congress hands than BJP,” says Kamble, pointing out that the INC candidate from Nagpur is Nana Patole, perceived as being supportive of the Khairlanji accused. (In 2006 Dalits were murdered by upper castes in Khairlanji).
Opposition to ‘manuwad’ of BJP-R S S is equally strong. “Modi pays homage to Dr Ambedkar’s statue, but progressive thoughts of Ambedkar are being sought to be eradicated,” says RPI activist Sanjay Patil.
Where will the Ambedkarite vote go this time given that the Dalit vote is fragmented into castes and subcastes? “We have not been able to build a united movement or spread social education among Dalits,” admits activist and theatre artiste Sanjay Jiwne.
The high point of independent Dalit political participation from Maharashtra was in 1985 when the Republican Party Of India founded by Ambedkar sent 4 MPs to Delhi—Ramdas Athawale from Pandarpur, Prakash Ambedkar from Akola, Jogendra Kawade from Nagpur and RS Gawai from Amravati. Since then, Gawai has passed away, and Kawade has dropped out of active politics, Athawale is with NDA and Ambedkar has ploughed a lonely furrow.
Today, Kawade is 75 but still fiery in speech. “Dalits must ally with Muslims and other minorities to truly have a say in politics,” he says. In 78-79 he was one of the leaders of the Dalit Long March for the renaming of Marathwada University.
The Dalit movement in Maharashtra suffered because of the syndrome of every leader wanting to be the sole spokesman, believes Vimal Thorat, convenor of the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights.
Why did Maharashtra never see the birth of a party like the BSP?
“The original Ambedkarite party, the RPI was born in Maharashtra, in fact Kanshi Ram learnt mobilisation methods from experiences here, but the Dalit party was destroyed by too many alliances,” says Jiwne. “The second rung of leadership after Ambedkar did not have his stature,” says Jadhav, “they had egos and mutual clashes. Dalits on their own cannot win elections.”
Scheduled Caste politics